Milk Poem #1

O, thou fat-cheeked darling
Wet and sticky with milk drips
Never have I wanted anything so much
Than to watch you grow fat at my breast.
How I delight in your soft, rolled thighs
How I glory in the curves of your face.
When you roll onto your back after nursing
Contented sigh, eyes closed
And emit an echoing belch
I am a Michelin-starred chef
At the fanciest restaurant.

Appa

Today has been kind of a crummy day. I mean, everything is fine, we are very fortunate, etc etc. (Seriously though, I’m very aware of how lucky and well-off we are in so many ways, and I truly don’t take it for granted.) Just — a hot sticky July day, my phone is on the fritz, I have PMS, that kind of stuff.

And then this afternoon, I was in my daughter’s room organizing her books. We’re in this constant battle with the closet in her room, trying to organize her books, clothes, toys, diapers, etc. I had books spread all over the floor and was sorting them into various groupings and placing them in bins. I have a bin for German language books (we’re trying to raise her with a little German, we’re both conversational but not fluent, so it’s a challenge! but hey, anything is better than nothing), a bin for “seasonal” books, etc. And all of a sudden a chunky board book landed in my lap — followed by my daughter’s little bum as she backed up and sat down.

Months ago I made her a small board book about my dad. Photos of him, the basics of his life story — where he was born, what he liked to do, etc. Lou wasn’t too interested — it was a bit above her ability level at the time — so it’s been put away. But today, she insisted I read it to her, and so I did — shortening the sentences a bit. On a photo of my parents on their wedding day, she pointed at my mother (who she calls Omi) and said “Mama!” I smiled and corrected her — “No, that’s Omi.” “Ahh-ny,” she said (this is how she pronounces Omi). I pointed to the man beside Omi and said, “and there’s Opa.” “Appa!” she said.

Cue the waterworks! Folks, we do bedtime blessings every single night and point at photos in a book and say “God bless so-and-so” and there are names in that book she still hasn’t learned, even after at least six months of nightly recitation. But Opa? That one clicked right in.

Several more times, she pointed to his face in the book and said “Opa!” Of course, shortly afterwards she lost interest in the book (she paused to look at photos of myself and my brother as babies and declare “gigi!” which is how she says baby, but then toddled off). She brought me her If I were a moose… book and we read that next.

She moves so quickly through the moments, much faster than I can. I can tell you, I have never gotten so choked up during If I were a moose… before.

where should we live?

This question has followed us basically since we moved in together. Eight years ago, I moved to Indiana to join David in his one bedroom railroad apartment. He was in his second year of his PhD program and I was about to begin working on my master’s degree. Our building was a small, red-brick affair with, I believe, ten units. There was a window A/C in the bedroom, a futon under the front window, and very a very typical “boy’s dorm room” bedding set : beiges and greys and faded blues. The oven was too small for a regular-sized baking sheet. We were one thousand miles (and about a 14 hour drive) from my childhood home, and two thousand miles (and a much longer drive) from David’s. There was no local airport, so to fly back to Washington, we took a shuttle bus to the airport first (I believe about an hour and a half long drive) and then usually had two flights to get to David’s hometown. We became very fond of the Indy 500 Grill, where we could plug our laptops in to do schoolwork while enjoying a beer and some onion rings and waiting for our flight.

We left Indiana four years ago, and have bounced around ever since. Traveling in Europe, then crashing at my mom’s house for several months while we got our feet under us, then Boise, Idaho, and now the Capital District of New York. We’ve been here for a year and a half — definitely the most challenging year and a half of our lives. We arrived in January 2020, the dead of winter. It was cold and icy, we were very lonely, and I was very pregnant. Then there was that whole ‘having a newborn and becoming parents in a global pandemic’ thing. No family, no friends, no meal deliveries, no washer & dryer, no help. I’m still amazed we did it (and still struggle with resentment…probably always will, and that’s okay).

But…now what? It’s not like we’ve developed a super tight-knit community here. (Meeting people in a pandemic with a baby is kind of like…not a thing.) We’d like to have three bedrooms and our own laundry machines…but apparently this is the worst time to buy a house, ever. (Kind of like how March 2020 was the worst time to have your first baby, ever. Hmm…) We can’t swing a three bedroom rental on our current income. We don’t want to have another baby until we’re a bit more settled…and have a guest room where the family and friends that will come next time can stay (you guys are coming, right? …right?). But, we also don’t want the spacing of our children to be determined by the whims of the real estate market. (I’m sure that we wouldn’t be the first though, if that is the case!)

No matter where we live, David and I will always be thousands of miles from someone we love. We are from opposite sides of the US, so there’s only so much we can do. We want to be wise, we want to be thoughtful. We also want to be able to host friends and do laundry in our own home, and maybe even have a wee garden.

Anyway, if you know where David and I ought to live, let me know. Should we buy a house? Rent an apartment? Stay put? Our minds are going around and around (well, mine especially).

Toad Sleeps Through Christmas

I have recently been enjoying an online writing course, created by Beth Kempton, called Winter Writing Sanctuary. Technically the course finished early in December, but fortunately, you can complete it at your own pace — which works well for me. One prompt invited us to change our perspective and imagine winter from the perspective of another animal. I was inspired to write about a toad by the toad we saw just outside our apartment in the summer. This is not high literature…but I thought it might bring a smile to some faces on this slightly sad and lonely Christmas. And I hope you have a tasty treat to enjoy this winter.


Toad was hungry. She had already eaten a breakfast of oatmeal, toast, and two slices of berry pie, but her tummy was grumbling. It said : winter is coming.

Toad went out to look for some lunch. The forest was chilly, and the sky was grey. “Not long ’til winter,” she thought.

A great orange pumpkin loomed ahead. Toad stopped to eat a piece. “That’ll do the trick,” she thought. But her tummy grumbled : winter is coming.

Toad smelled a delicious smell. Following her nose, she hopped to the tree of her friend Robin. “Hello down there!” called Robin from his nest. “I’m just taking my worm casserole from the oven. Would you like some?” “Oh yes, please,” said Toad. So Robin flew down with two plates piled high with worm casserole, and a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. He spread it on a toadstool and they shared a delicious lunch. While they ate, Robin told Toad all about the Christmas party that he was planning. Toad was captivated by his description of the sugar cookies he would make, cut into stars and trees and hearts and lined with white icing. “Of course you are invited,” said Robin. But they both knew Toad couldn’t come. She had to hibernate each winter, and would miss the fun.

“Well, Merry Christmas, Robin,” said Toad, feeling a chill in the air. “I should be getting home — winter is coming.”

She was nearly home to the muddy bank when a huge rumbling shook the earth. Hiding under a leaf, Toad watched as two people came up the path. The first was a small child (who of course looked enormous to Toad). She trembled as she watched the yellow rubber boots tromp up : splat, splat, splat! The boots stopped right in front of Toad’s leaf. CRUNCH, CRUNCH. The huge sound came from above. “I wonder what this child is eating,” thought Toad. Her tummy gave another rumble. She curled up smaller under the leaf and hoped the rumbling wouldn’t give her away.

CRASH. Something enormous fell from above, just inches from Toad’s leaf. “Mama, let’s go home and decorate the tree!” called the child. The boots ran away, followed by a pair of larger ones.

Trembling, Toad crept out from under her leaf. Lying on a patch of moss was an enormous star, yellow but light brown underneath, with a white line all around the edge — a sugar cookie, just like Robin had told her about! Toad grasped it in her long fingers and pulled it under an evergreen bush. As she ate the cookie, point by point, a light snow began to fall. “Winter is here,” thought Toad. Her tummy did not grumble anymore. Licking the last crumbs from her lips, she burrowed into the mud to wait for spring.

Morning has broken

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first word
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word

I was 23 when I was baptized (for the first time). Shortly afterwards, I moved to Indiana. I carefully researched churches and found a United Church of Christ congregation that looked progressive, warm, and alive. David and I were both in graduate school in Indiana, so we spent most of our time with other people in their early-to-mid twenties. But at church…we caught young children by the shoulder as they sprinted around during coffee hour, reminding them to slow down lest they knock over an elderly person. We passed the peace of Christ to teenagers in T-shirts, and teared up when new babies were baptized. We read The New Jim Crow for the adult Sunday school class, and listened to our fellow congregants’ memories of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. My circle became multi-generational in a way it had never been before — one of the best gifts of joining a faith community.

David and I joined the choir, attending rehearsals every Thursday evening and Sunday morning before worship. We wore polyester yellow robes with different colored stoles appropriate to the liturgical season. Often we felt a little resentful while driving to the church on Thursday evening; always we were glad to have gone. David sat next to a man named Al. He was a retired biology professor, an outdoorsperson, and a passionate environmentalist. And mostly, to us, he was a friend who asked after us and chatted with us and sang with us twice a week. When Al was diagnosed with leukemia, the choir moved out of the choir loft so that Al and his wife could sit there, allowing him to attend church despite his lack of immune system. By spring, Al was too weak to leave his home. The choir gathered early on Easter and walked, in our Sunday best, to stand outside Al’s house and sing to him, including his favorite hymn, Morning Has Broken. His wife explained that he was too weak to come sit on the porch, but that she had opened the windows — he was listening.

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness, where His feet pass

We sang again at his funeral just several months later, and listened to his daughters speak about their wonderful childhood going on family camping trips, hikes, and bike rides, singing Morning Has Broken and other hymns while they did so. His colleagues shared about his passion for teaching biology to undergraduates. Two years later, the church finally had raised enough money to install solar panels, a long-term project about which Al and his wife were particularly passionate (the family asked for donations towards this project in lieu of flowers). The energy costs of the building are tremendous — not only does the church operate services and meetings, but it also hosts a homeless shelter one night a week during the winter, a Head Start pre-k program five days a week, Alcoholics Anonymous groups on weeknights, and various other programs, concerts for music students…and now it does so using the power of the sun.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

Years later, just after we moved away from Indiana, David and I ended up almost by random chance spending a couple of nights in the small English village of Alfriston. We went for a fifteen mile long loop hike to the Seven Sisters cliffs and back. We didn’t have a day bag so David wore a duffel bag like a backpack to carry our sack lunches and water bottle. We didn’t have hiking boots — just sneakers (in my case) or Dockers (in David’s). It was one of the best days of our lives, and a day when we learned what we love to do (go for long, long walks, especially in the English countryside). Now, with our own child, we are beginning a tradition of Saturday walks — not very long walks yet, but she is only five months old, after all. We will sing hymns and recite poems with her as we walk, as Al and his wife did with their daughters.

Yesterday, David and I went to a state park here in New York to hike with the baby. We drove through a village where one of our church friends from Indiana grew up — I texted him to let him know, and we made plans to catch up on the phone sometime, and he told me how much he loves the hike we were setting out to do. I looked up the hymn Morning Has Broken, curious about its origins, and I learned that the text was written in 1931 by Eleanor Farjeon, inspired by…the village of Alfriston. And somehow, in all these different places we have been, it all ties together.

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing, fresh from the Word


four months old & strawberry rhubarb pie

 

Our daughter is four months old! It is both amazing to me how young she still is (it’s been a lifetime — literally! — since she was born) and how four months have already passed us by. When I was pregnant, we had planned to be on the west coast at this time, introducing her to her family and friends. Of course, we haven’t gone anywhere at all due to the pandemic and she has met almost none of her family. So, we are celebrating at home just us three with a wee tea party. Why celebrate four months? Well, mostly because we don’t go anywhere or do anything so we have to create excitement where we may. But also because four is my favorite number.

I am not a pie baker. The only pie I regularly make is pumpkin-cheesecake pie which involves a store-bought crust (I prefer the Oreo one, but I have made a graham cracker cheesecake crust as well) and, well, cheesecake filling. I have once made an apple pie from scratch (after which I swore I’d never do it again because wow, that is a pain in the butt and I don’t even like apple pie all that well). I am not even much of a pie eater; I am not very fond of fruit pies. But then, I think the weekend of my husband’s cousin’s wedding, but it may have been the weekend of my sister-in-law’s wedding…my mother-in-law gave me a slice of homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie. And wow, that is a pie of which I am fond, to say the least! We have since baked it together, and because our local farm store has rhubarb and strawberries in season, and because I miss my husband’s family something awful, baking a strawberry-rhubarb pie just seemed the thing to do.

My mother-in-law uses Fannie Farmer’s strawberry-rhubarb pie filling recipe, with an extra tablespoon of flour. Along with that, I used Erin McDowell’s All-Buttah Pie Dough recipe from her book The Fearless Baker. Rather than make a lattice I chose four cookie cutters in shapes I like*, and made a little number four out of scraps of dough.

I am not an experienced pie baker, as noted above : the crust underneath definitely had a soggy bottom of which Mary Berry would not approve, and the filling was too juicy — but honestly it tasted great and I’m still pretty proud of myself. David and I had tea and pie and we gave the baby a special new toy (not to mention, I happened to receive a recent book order including the riveting board book Paddington Bear All Day, so, you know…a pretty good haul for a four-month birthday). And it felt good to celebrate something joyous, and to eat a food we have enjoyed many times with David’s family.

hand and toy

Finally, four things I love about my girl :

One : Her delicious, buttery smell. (Almost like a pie crust smell, actually.)
Two : Picking her up when she is still mostly asleep to nurse her — her warmth and weight, how she latches on and nurses without opening her eyes, how her little hand (confined to her zipadee-zip) reaches up towards my face.
Three : Her face when I sing Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins to her — like it’s a secret delight only she and I get to enjoy together.
Four : The tuft of hair on the top of her head, which showed up in an ultrasound photo and has managed to hold on (wispily) even while much of her hair has fallen out.

*I texted the photo of the completed pie to my best friend, who immediately replied, “I love the whale!!!” I then discovered that the cookie cutter that to me is a snail can also look like a whale. I’m not even sure anymore whether the cookie cutter is a whale or a snail shape. What do you see?

 

the longest stretch

 

“Hey sweetie, I think she’s ready to nurse. It’s…it’s five AM.”


 

The thought didn’t occur to me when I sat up and switched on the lamp, nor while I was unbuttoning my nightgown, nor when I held my 11-week-old daughter in my arms and brought her to my breast. I didn’t think it while she was nursing in the dark bedroom (having switched off the lamp again; she finds the bright light so mesmerizing she cranes her neck so she can gaze at it and forgets entirely to nurse), nor when I handed her back to my husband so he could lay her down again.

But at six AM, while I sat in the living room with a hot cup of tea (the whole of which I drank, uninterrupted, while it was hot — another milestone), a scented candle burning (“Nonnatus House” scent), and my journal open on my lap — then, finally, I thought : this seven hour stretch is the longest stretch in her entire life that she and I have not touched.

Of course there have been many “longest stretches.” I’m not sure why it was the seven-hour stretch that sparked this thought. The first stretch was only several seconds : right after I pushed her out, when the midwife held her and brought her up to my chest. (But I suppose we were still touching — because her umbilical cord was still attached, and it went down from her belly and back inside of me — we were still touching even then.) So I suppose the first moment was when my husband cut the cord. (Except, wait, in that moment, she was laying on my chest, so even as that one connection was broken, another remained.) I suppose it really began, to be precise, when a nurse lifted her from my chest to weigh her, when she was one hour old. Those couple of minutes began the lifelong stretching of time that will slowly separate me from my daughter.


 

I remember when I reached the moment that marked the longest I had gone without seeing my father. He died when I was 20 years old, a sophomore in college, so we had been parted, at the very longest, for ten weeks, the length of a quarter-term. That eleventh week after he died, it was a new slap in the face in a series of many — I had crossed over some threshold. There had been many to cross and were (are) many still to come : there was the first midnight, marking the ending of the last day we had shared, and the beginning of the first day of my life that he was not alive for. There was the ending of the month of February, marking the end of the last month when he had ever lived. And later came New Year’s Eve, ending the last year of my life I would ever share with him. I have recently entered my thirties : the first decade of my life he wasn’t here for (he just barely touched my twenties).

Someday, God willing, I will reach the tipping point where I will have lived more of my life without him than with him. And I hope to surpass his age, someday having lived a longer life than he did. By that time, my daughter and I will have had our minutes and hours stretch into days and weeks, and likely months, that we have gone without touching. And this will be a blessing.

I think of my father every single day — there was a time, after his death, when I don’t think a minute went by without my thinking of him. That stretched to hours, as my grief faded, but it has stretched as far as it will ever — I don’t believe there will come a day when I don’t think of him. I know there will never come a day when I don’t think of my daughter, no matter where she may be. And someday, when her life takes her far from me and her father, I trust that she will think of us.

 

wherever I’m with you

The last time I made a post here was April 2, 2019 — almost a full year ago! By April 2, 2020, we will (God willing) have a newborn baby with us, in our new home in central New York. David and I have never been very good at staying put but we’ve made a pact to stay in this location for at least two years (ooh).

Right now, I have been living in our new apartment for about four days. It is still primarily a city of boxes, but we have carved out areas of sanity : the master bathroom, the corner of the living room, the table, the galley kitchen. I brought my beloved pothos plant, Hestia, all the way from Idaho. She traveled wrapped in newspaper in a carry-on suitcase and I repotted her when we arrived at my mom’s house for Christmas. As I write this I can see her on the table beside me — she is flourishing! Travel and moving evidently comes fairly easily to Hestia — all she needed was fresh soil and a few big drinks of water and she perked right up.

I’m not sure that’s quite as true of me, although certainly big drinks of water are helping. All of these transitions at once, though : it’s a lot. I quit my job in December and don’t know when I’ll return to work, or whether I’ll return to my field (counseling) or branch out into something new. We moved across the country, and meanwhile I’ve been growing us a baby who is expected to arrive sometime in March. My body, home, and vocation have all been dramatically changed in the past several months.

I think all this change may be why some of the unpacking has been so comforting. There may be a lot of change, but many of our beloved items are the same, and they feel like an anchor : the colorful blocks I took from my father’s office after he died, the set of coasters that looks like a sheep that my friend Ruth brought us from Ireland, photo books from our past travels, the quilt made from fabric scraps from years of Grammie’s sewing. These things have moved with us many times and each time we unwrap them from bubble wrap or old t-shirts and cardboard boxes, it is a bit like seeing a friend or a familiar patch of land.

I wonder if David and I will ever be “rooted.” Our origin is in travel : we met while studying abroad in Germany. We grew up on opposite sides of the country, and we’ve already lived together in several states in our five years of marriage. Sometimes we fantasize about how it might feel to stay somewhere for ten years or some other incredibly long time. No matter where we live, we’ll always be far from some part of our hearts.

It’s corny, but Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros kind of hit the nail on the head when it comes to how I feel about David :

Home, let me go home — home is wherever I’m with you…

March Books

Posted a wee bit late, as on the last day of March I was running 18 miles and then napping!

7. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
This was an intense and fast-paced read. Evolution has stopped and strange things are happening in the world. Babies rarely survive pregnancy and birth, so pregnant women begin to be rounded up and forcibly held by the government. In some ways this book is reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s definitely its own work. I particularly loved that the US postal service went rogue and was part of the resistance. There’s also an exploration of race, specifically, the main character is a Native American woman who was adopted by a white couple when she was born. She searches for her birth mother and there is a lot of interesting interaction between her adoptive and birth families. Definitely a good choice for getting sucked into a fascinating book for a weekend or a long plane trip.
8. The Deepest Well : Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Dr.Nadine Burke Harris
I have been slowly chipping away at this book for several months in my rare free moments at work and finally finished it in mid-March. Overall, I enjoyed the book and learned a lot. I was unimpressed with Dr.Burke Harris’s focus on obesity and weight, as in my opinion there’s a lot more to health than body size. Her very cool program has some great protocols to help young children get more physically active, which is awesome! Measuring the success of that via weight seems pretty small-minded, though. That said, I really enjoyed the case studies that demonstrated connections between trauma and physical health. Some of the stories were absolutely stunning in terms of the severity of physical symptoms stemming from childhood adversity. I would love to someday visit the Center for Youth Wellness, where they are practicing really cool medicine, therapy, and research. 
9. Karamo : My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope by Karamo Brown
If you enjoy the show Queer Eye (as I do), you will find this a fun read! It wasn’t particularly deep, but it was a good book to read while on the stationary bike on my cross-training days. I really enjoy Karamo on the show and know that he is a social worker (I’m a counselor, which is a different master’s degree and license, but similar), so I was interested to learn more of his history. 
10. Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak got me through high school. I read that book to death. Shout is her new memoir, written in poems, that tells her story. It came out at the beginning of March and David had a copy ready for me when I got home from work on the publication day. I read the book slowly, over the course of the month and I loved this book. I cried, laughed, and read many poems aloud for David. It is a book I will keep and treasure and re-read. I am so grateful for Laurie Halse Anderson. If you haven’t read Speak, I’d recommend you read that first, as Shout talks a lot about her experiences that mirror that of the main character’s, and also the reception of Speak, etc. Do be aware that both Speak and Shout deal with themes of sexual assault.
I’m currently working through some theology memoir/prayer type books as it is Lent, and also re-reading my beloved Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. I don’t have any particular reading plans for spring, but we’ll be taking a couple of weekend trips so I’ll probably be focusing on the stuff on my Kindle. 🙂 Happy spring reading, all!

February books

likeamother
the beautiful cover of Angela Garbes’ book

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I just adored this book. It had so many elements that I enjoy : WWII-era England, letter writing, strong and interesting women characters, and books. The writing was at times a bit heavy-handed but still so enjoyable. Honestly, a delight.

5. A Square Meal : A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe

This was fascinating! So much interesting history through this lens. My favorite weird/fun fact was that early nutritional guidelines developed in the United States based a man’s daily caloric intake on his occupation (okay, that sort of makes sense) and based his wife’s and children’s on fractions of his (I forget the fractions, say, 1/3 of his intake for his young child). So what this meant was that their guidelines recommended less food for the wife and child of a watchmaker than the wife and child of a railroad worker. Isn’t that hilariously ridiculous? Anyway, this book had more than just fun facts and is definitely worth a read.

6. Like A Mother : A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes

I laughed out loud several times in this book and also learned a lot (especially about the placenta, holy wow). Garbes explores how in the US the main “pregnancy science” we (the general public) know is scary warnings (no alcohol! no deli meat!) but not the really interesting and amazing biology that actually takes place during pregnancy and birth. (Which is MINDBLOWING. Like, do you have any idea how complex and incredible the placenta is? Or the way that breast milk works, and how it can create antibodies specifically for the baby?? I thought I had a sense of these things but there is SO MUCH I didn’t know.) She also writes about her experiences as a woman of color in the medical/birth system, and interweaves her personal story with science and history. I’m handing this off to my husband to read next. I’d recommend it to anyone who plans to someday be pregnant (or whose partner or close friend plans to someday be pregnant!) or has an interest in feminism, pregnancy, or birth.

p.s. I also just read Garbes’ article, “Why Are We Only Talking About ‘Mom Books’ By White Women?” in The Cut and it was both a good piece on its own and provided me with books to add to my to-read list.